This article originally appeared on iMedia Connection, an online resource covering the latest and greatest in interactive marketing.

Recently, a much buzzed-about word has made its way into the collective vocabulary of online marketers everywhere: graymail.

Hotmail used the term in a recent announcement to describe unwanted – albeit legitimate – email newsletters and offers that are being labeled by consumers as spam, even though they’ve technically opted in. According to Microsoft Windows, 75 percent of email identified as spam by their users is actually unwanted graymail.

So when Hotmail declared “war on graymail,” they implemented a series of tools designed to give recipients greater control over what makes it into their inbox and what doesn’t.

Here at VerticalResponse, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from customers about how this might affect their emails. Read on for a list of answers to some frequently-asked graymail questions:

What does the new Hotmail inbox mean to email marketers?

Since Hotmail will display the most relevant emails in the inbox, customer engagement is key because relevant means recipients are opening and clicking.

Why is customer engagement important? Marketers that don’t occupy a prized spot on the recipient’s contact list wind up in the “everything else” bucket where response times might be slower or spike at certain intervals (e.g., once a week, early morning, during lunchtime or end of business day).

In other words, this is a good time to hone in and focus on engaging your customers, versus treating email marketing as something you do just to cross it off your list. This might be a good time to take a good hard look at your content and subject lines, to see if you can make any improvements and get those response rates higher.

What should businesses do to make sure their messages are getting read by Hotmail users?

Rely on tried-and-true best email practices. Obviously, don’t contact customers who’ve unsubscribed from you. Consider asking current subscribers to add your “From address” to their address book or “safe list.” You may even want to consider sending a specific email targeting Hotmail users to do this.

Are the new Hotmail settings bad for my business?

No, not if you really focus on getting your recipients engaged via great content and amazing offers they can’t refuse! In fact, anti-graymail features such as Schedule Cleanup (which enables users to automatically delete any emails that are older than a specific period of time) can potentially boost your response by displaying your email over those that have lingered and are cluttering their inboxes.

Do these settings present a new opportunity for marketers?

Yes, absolutely, and this is particularly true if you’re looking to treat your recipients like people rather than a big list that may or may not respond to what you’re offering. As long as their interest is maintained and email frequency expectations aren’t abused, you can and will use Hotmail’s changes to pull far ahead of the pack.

Have you noticed any changes in your email marketing programs since Hotmail began implementing its graymail tools?

© 2012, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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